Celebrate: Setsubun 2014

Happy Setsubun, everyone! Did you throw your soybeans today?

Setsubun is Japan’s spring festival, celebrated the day before the official first day of spring. The purpose of the holiday is to cleanse the house of the evil spirits of the previous year and purify the home for the year to come. To that end, a special ritual called mamemaki (bean throwing) is enacted. Yup, that’s right. Bean throwing.

Priests throwing beans at Zojoji inTokyo
Priests throwing beans at Zojoji inTokyo

When Setsubun is celebrated at home, the eldest male of the household (or a male who was born in the current zodiac year) dons the mask of a red-faced oni (demon). The rest of the household throws soybeans at him, yelling “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi“. This literally means “devil out, good luck in”. The beans are thought to purify the home and to cleanse oneself, a roasted soybean is eaten for each year a person has been alive. However, not everyone celebrates at home; they often go to a local temple or well-known site (like Kumamoto Castle in my hometown).

I must admit that – today being a school and work day – we celebrated in our own home a little bit early. This weekend, we walked over to the grocery store and picked up our requisite oni mask and soybeans (oh alright peanuts, but I think they taste better). Last year, I had my daughter fling peanuts at me while I sported the oni mask. She didn’t really get it, but what two-year-old doesn’t like throwing things? This year, we took turns wearing the mask and of course, the same thing about flinging objects around holds true for three-year-olds as well. 🙂 However, we also did a few rounds of the Setsubun song, a Japanese tune in one of her songbooks that uses the phrase I mentioned above. My Pennsylvanian family would be stricken by this, but I think my daughter now knows more about Setsubun than she does Groundhog Day. Well, when in Rome … 🙂

Masks and beans for Setsubun
Masks and beans for Setsubun

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